Joe Dallesandro A Body Without A Voice

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Like Kristel, the Italian-American Joe Dallesandro was a foreign actor who became associated with French erotic cinema in the mid-seventies. His five French films were all made between 1975 and 1979, and include a performance alongside Kristel in La Marge. Dallesandro was an underground star in the United States during the sixties, first in nude 'beefcake' photography, then as one of the so-called 'Superstars' of Andy Warhol's Factory film studio. Although Dallesandro himself is straight, his star body and husder persona in the Warhol/Paul Morrissey films Flesh (1968), Trash (1970) and Heat (1972) made him a gay icon. The husder is a 'representative figure of the gay underground' who appropriates some of the glamour of mainstream American stars, aping 'the sullen hunkiness of Brando, Dean, Presley and co.'45 The business transaction whereby a star - whether underground like Dallesandro, or mainstream like James Dean - trades on their image, is made explicit in the figure of the hustler: he literally sells his body. As Dyer points out, stars are commodities: 'they are both labour and the thing that labour produces.' Hence certain stars' sense of betrayal at having been 'turned into something they didn't control is particularly acute because the commodity they produced is fashioned in and out of their own bodies and psychologies'.46 This seems to be the case with Dallesandro, who has complained that at the Factory he was treated simply as a tradable resource to make money for Warhol and Morrissey's productions.47 Celebrated by American Vogue in 1971 as 'the first really big star to come of the New York film underground',48 Dallesandro hoped to profit himself from his star image by making it in Hollywood. He almost secured a role in 7he Godfather, but when he did leave the Factory to go 'overground' it was not in Hollywood but in Europe, thanks to the French and Italian films he made during the seventies.

At Warhol's Factory, androgyny and sexual ambivalence had been part of Dallesandro's star image. Vogue had described him as exhibiting 'a new uni-sexed glamour'.49 This sense of crossing sexual boundaries was to continue in his French films, notably the first two, Louis Malle's Black Moon and Serge Gainsbourg's Je t'aime, moinonplus (both 1975). In the former, Dallesandro and Alexandra Stewart play twins, both called Lily. Cast for his resemblance to Stewart, Dallesandro represents a kind of male ideal in the film, androgynous in appearance and, at least initially, harmoniously identified with his sister. (This harmony between brother and sister is in direct contrast to the literal batde between the sexes that gives the film its violent context.) Although Dallesandro's physical appearance is emphasised (again, largely via the identification with Stewart), his voice is

45* R. Dyer, Now you see it: Studies in lesbian and gay film, London and New York: Routledge, 1990, p.153.

46* R. Dyer, Heavenly Bodies: Film Starsand Society, London, BFl/Macmillan, 1986, pp.5 and 6.

47* See M. Ferguson, Little Joe Superstar: The Films of Joe Dallesandro, Laguna Hills, Ca: Companion Press, 1998, pp.24-6.

not part of his star image. In Black Moon he never speaks, and communicates telepathically. The singing he indulges in is clearly dubbed, just as his dialogue is throughout Je t'aime, moi non plus. These seem to have been aesthetic as much as linguistic decisions. Malle chooses not to show Dallesandro moving his mouth at all, so that we only hear his song from afar, while Gainsbourg told him that 'when you speak French, your whole face contorts and you don't look like who you are.'50 In contrast with GĂ©rard Depardieu, whose tender voice successfully balances a strong physique, Dallesandro's star image, at least in his French films, appears contradicted or jeopardised by his (French-speaking) voice and is therefore entirely visual.

If Black Moon crystallises Dallesandro's androgynous appearance, Je t'aime, moi non plus reiterates his earlier, Warholian association with ambivalent sexuality. He plays Krassky, a butch refuse collector who is having a gay affair with his queenish buddy Padovan (Hugues Quester), but who falls in love with Johnny (Jane Birkin), an extremely androgynous barmaid. The homosexual overtones of Krassky\s affair with Johnny are explicit: she has a boy's name and appearance (both in costume and body), and the sex between them is always anal. In fact, Krassky is associated with anality throughout the film: hence his job, his nick-name (Krass, i.e. 'crasse', meaning filth), and the repeated shots of him from the rear, whether clothed or, more often, nude. His appearance is a display of butch masculinity, complete with the props of the macho man: tattoo, vest, tight jeans, muscles. In Richard Dyer's terminology, he is the gay man as 'powerful [...] masculine [...] fucker', while Padovan (like his female replacement, Johnny) is the 'powerless [...] feminine [...] fuckee'.51 But there is a vulnerability associated with Dallesandro here, which recalls his role as an impotent junkie in Morrissey's Trash. Hence Krassky's impotence when confronted with the prospect of vaginal intercourse with Johnny, and his fear of female sexuality. When he and Johnny do have sex, it is associated with pain for her and desperation for him. Gainsbourg's film is a celebration of complicated sexuality, and Dallesandro's role in it is to suggest a collision of opposites within the character of Krassky: Is he gay or straight? Tough or sensitive? Clean or dirty? (He poses on piles of old clothes and eulogises the rubbish dump as 'a mountain of shit', yet we also see him in a pristine white t-shirt brushing his teeth carefully.) He is all of these, and above all an object of desire for Padovan and Johnny, memorably seen from Johhny's point of view in a soft-focus mirror sequence where the camera slowly moves across his star torso. The 'uni-sexed glamour' of Dallesandro's star image is thus expressed in his early French films either as a visible androgyny (Black Maori) or, in Je t'aime, moi non plus, as a cross-gender sex appeal that enacts in Padovan's and Johnny's reaction. Vincent Canby's description of the star: 'His physique is so magnificently shaped that men as well as women become disconnected at the sight of him'.52

51* See Dyer, op. cit., p.92. These terms are taken from Dyer's discussion of gay sex in Querelle. 52* Cited in Ferguson, op. cit., p.157.

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